Thursday, April 30, 2009

In short: Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966)

A vampire (John Carradine, in his drunken stupor phase) travels through the American West. When he's hitch-hiking on a stagecoach, an older woman makes the mistake of showing him a photo of her daughter Betty (Melinda Plowman). Obviously, Carradinpire suffers from that old vampiric malaise, the wanting to make any young woman whose photo you see your vampire bride sickness, and "cleverly" arranges an Indian attack on the coach to kill the woman and her traveling companion, whose role as the "long lost relative from the other coast" he's going to assume to get into Betty's knickersfind eternal happiness with the true love of his existence.

It's just too bad that Betty has a fiancee - Billy the Kid (Chuck Courtney), trying to live a new life without violence as a ranch hand, loved by almost every person of authority he meets (if they wouldn't love him, Courtney would have to act, and we really can't have that).

Billy soon enough understands (alright, is told by German immigrants who lost their daughter to Johnny the rubber bat) the truth about the kindly uncle and is most surely not willing to lose his woman to an undead guy with a goatee.

This is William Beaudine's sister movie to Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. It's just a shame that it is far less entertaining than its sibling. Where the other film wins the hearts and minds of right thinking viewers through copious amounts of glorious wrongness and a grotesque but loveable performance of its lead actress, Billy the Kid's adventures in the supernatural mostly fall flat. The whole vampire business here is realized as rote and boring as possible, never trying to do anything with the genre mash-up potentials of Western and vampire movie. It is most assuredly not improved by Beaudine's flavorless as usual direction, the eventless script or the godawful (in a charmless way) acting.
The film's theoretical star Carradine totters through it as if his vampire tended to only suck the blood of alcoholics, blabbering his lines and giving the same bug-eyed semi-Lugosi stare whenever he is told to emote, thereby reaching the elusive plateau of being so bad that it's just annoying. And yet, he still is the only thing I'd call even remotely memorable about the film. Unless you have never seen a rubber bat before. In this case, you'll also love the rubber bats.

In a sense, it is quite an achievement how painfully boring the film is, still I'd recommend you ignore the siren song of its title or its genealogy and just watch Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter for the tenth time instead. I wish I had.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In short: AM1200 (2008)

After a little embezzlement by financial business person Sam Larson (Eric Lange) leads to the suicide of Sam's boss (Ray Wise) - who rather ironically was also the person who put the whole idea into his employee's head -, Sam goes on the run, driving across the USA in the sort of blind flight across highways that has never ended too well in any film.

At night, the broadcast of a religious nutcase radio station turns into a sort of emergency call, pleading for anyone hearing it to come to the station and help out with some sort of medical emergency.

Sam's not planning on answering the call, but ends up at the radio station regardless. Inside the building, he finds the aftermath of a fight (though strangely enough no bodies) and a man, probably the DJ/preacher (John Billingsley) handcuffed to a radiator. It is obvious that something terrible and deeply strange has happened there.

David Prior's AM1200 is an excellent short film of Lovecraftian horror, not terribly original as a piece of its sub-genre, but really thriving on the quality of its execution.

Its professionalism in every technical aspect alone would be enough to elevate it above a lot of the "independent horror cinema" (read "some misguided dudes -and it's always men - with a digital camera and fake entrails trying to sell their home video as a movie") I keep complaining about. This is an actual movie, probably not an expensive one, but still one with professional level acting, excellent camera work and lighting and people behind it who give a damn for the end product of their struggles.

It is quite admirable how much the film's script trusts its audience to be able to think, keeping info dumping and explanations as far away as they belong from cosmic horror.

Instead, Prior effectively builds a mood of dread and keeps it up throughout the forty minutes of runtime, which is exactly as it should be in this type of film. There's not much else I can say about the film - it simply does what it sets out to do in excellent fashion.

And for once people interested in an independent horror film don't have to wait for a distributor to snatch a film only to keep it away from a possible audience until its existence is forgotten - Prior sells the DVD on his website.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One Eyed Monster (2007)

Alien invasions aren't what they used to be. When the boss of a porn film studio (Jeff Denton) gets the bright idea to film his next movie in a cabin in the mountains - naturally without a working telephone line and with a snow front threatening to cut the cabin off from the rest of the world any minute now - it is only a question of time until the first alien appears to do some invading. Among the actors are porn veterans Ron Jeremy and Veronica Hart (playing themselves, with Jeremy cutely credited "Introducing Ron Jeremy"), still teaching the young 'uns a lesson about things-this-stuck-up-European-is-not-going-to-talk-about.

Alas, poor Ron soon is hit by a strange bolt of light coming down from the sky, leading to a rather overenthusiastic performance in his first scene, Veronica only being saved from bleeding to death thanks to the wonders of tampon science and Ron's penis absconding.

No telephone, snowed in, an alien-possessed killer penis on the doorstep - yes, that's what Hollywood dreams are made of. Fortunately the film crew (we better don't talk about the pitiable actors) is as well prepared for these circumstances as humanly possible, what with the lighting, camera, sound guy Jonah (Jason Graham, channeling Duane Jones quite nicely) being a gulf war veteran, make-up artist Laura having a huge crush on Ron Jeremy('s member) and being played by Amber Benson and boom mike operator T.J. (Caleb Mayo) having the kind of technical talent that could make one chief engineer in the Star Fleet, if the Star Fleet was interested in mechanical vaginas.

Further bettering the chances of team porn/Earth is their neighbour, a vietnam veteran named Mohtz (Charles Napier, himself veteran of just about every kind of movie or TV show ever made or imaginable), who, what a stroke of luck!, has already had some experience with alien killer penii and brings valuable information about the physiological wonder that is the killer penis with him, as well as a distinct smell of alcohol.

Whatever could go wrong when these people are trying to trap and kill the alien menace to humanity?

As far as killer dick movies go, One Eyed Monster is a newly made classic. As I might have mentioned here already, I'm not the greatest fan of comedies, probably to an even lesser degree a fan of horror comedies, but I have to admit I did laugh here more than once, possibly even loudly.

Firstly, this has to do with the quality of the script. Yes, it is as absurd and silly as it sounds, yet it's also coherent and with a very nice sense for the internal reality of the situation. The film has an amazing lack of the sort laziness which is too often mistaken for irony (I'm looking at Scream and everything that it has to answer for, here) in films. It's still full of comically subverted clichés and honestly funny homages to horror classics like Alien or The Thing (Carpenter version), but the movie also knows when to play things straight - or as straight as things in the world of the killer penis get - and never uses "I'm just a comedy" as an excuse for willfull dumbness. There's also a fine sense for the clichés one should just ignore, so the film lacks the mandatory crap-talking black guy who always is the second victim or at best allowed to sacrifice himself for the hero, and  instead features that rare thing, a capable person of colour (and how sad is it that this is a fact that still stands out as something special in horror so long after Romero and a few others have shown how to do it?)!

Secondly, the actors do a bang-up job with what they are given. I imagine that it must be rather difficult to play stuff like this. If an actor goes too far over the top, he'll probably end up dragging the film down into the land of mainstream slapstick comedy which films like Scary Movie taught us to hate, if he underplays it he'll look rather colourless next to a damn killer penis. Here, everyone (yes, Jeremy and Hart, too) finds exactly the right level.

Thirdly, director Adam Fields (who also co-wrote the film with his siblings Jordan and Scott) does the classic good low budget movie thing of knowing what can be done on a budget and what can't and then acting accordingly. As a consequence, we see less blood and killer penis than some would probably wish for, yet Fields films so cleverly around the lack of a big effects budget that it's difficult not to find it charming. What is there to see is rather well done, my personal favorite being the highly interesting strangling technique of the killer member (something only Ron Jeremy's penis could be capable of).

What more could you possibly want from a killer penis film?


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Monday, April 27, 2009

Music Monday: Bunker Love Song Edition

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

In short: Mark Strikes Back (1976)

aka The .44 Specialist (not to be mixed up with The 44 Specialist, also featuring John Saxon and also made in 1976, but in the Philippines by good old Cirio H. Santiago)

Mark Patti (Franco Gasparri) is a small-time undercover cop working for the Italian police. Mark is quite unsatisfied with his position and the fact that he is only able to go after the small fry. It suits him just fine when chance lets him fall in with Olga (Marcella Michelangeli) and Paul (John Steiner), two international terrorists. The anti-terror squad is all too pleased to finally be able to get someone close to two people relatively high in the undefined terrorist organization and Patti is just too happy to finally be of real use.

That is, until he has reason to doubt the motives and methods of his new boss, a certain Altman (John Saxon). At that point, it might just be too late for Mark to change his mind about his job or to just get out alive.

Mark Strikes Back has every possibility to be an excellent film. Stelvio Massi's direction is unobtrusive, yet obviously skilled, the actors (especially Steiner) are doing great work, there's even a fine soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani to round it all out.

Alas, Dardano Sacchetti's script really lets the whole film down. It all starts out well enough and for about forty-five minutes, the film seems to slowly but surely move into a direction where Eurocrime film and 70s conspiracy thriller meet, until the actual plot is suddenly cut short at the movie's halfway point and replaced by a very Sacchetti-typical episodic drifting from one loosely connected set-piece to the next. Why one would just stop one's plot in the middle of a film, robbing it of every sense of urgency in the process, is beyond me. Sacchetti might well be going for something like "terrorism has no head and more than one reason, so there can be no real throughline" (at least that's what the film more or less states outright), but this sadly ignores the fact that a thriller needs a plot and an audience needs a reason to care about the things that are happening on screen beyond the mere fact that they are in the script.

Thanks to everyone else's contributions, the film stays watchable as a technically excellent accumulation of scenes that probably would make an excellent movie, if someone would just bother to actually connect them.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Raven (1935)

When Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is dangerously hurt in a car accident, her father Judge "I don't need no stinking first name" Thatcher (Samuel S. Hinds) turns to the only man who seems capable to successfully operate on Jean for help. Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) is a retired physician with a Poe obsession and the rather unpleasant self-interpretation of "Nietzschean superman", yet he is also a (self-)certified genius.

Vollin saves Jean's life without breaking a sweat, but one look at his patient also has him falling madly in love with her.

When she is alright again, Vollin and Jean start socializing. The young woman even seems to take a shine to the good Doctor, a fact that highly displeases the Judge. After all, she is already eloped to one of the non-entities one is eloped to in films like this (Lester Matthews).´

Obviously, instead of impressing onto his daughter the importance of thinking about which man she actually wants and letting her do the sorting out herself (or, good Lord!, just letting her be), the Judge has a little talk with Vollin, starting from the assumption that a man like Vollin would of course never be drawn to someone like his daughter (ah, the respect), and even if he did would never act upon it when it displeases her father. Vollin is rather displeased with the Judge's position himself, even more so because all this love business isn't good for his superior brain.

Surprisingly, the good doctor's command to "Send her to me!" doesn't endear him to Judge Thatcher, and the whole civilized talk business  just ends with him growing murderously mad and the judge getting into a (this time understandable) hissy fit.

Obviously, a mad genius like Vollin is not going to take this lying down. But how to avenge himself? Fortunately, soon after this discussion, a solution to Vollin's problem in form of the escaped killer Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff) stumbles into Vollin's mansion. He wants Vollin to change the appearance of his face, not just to escape the attention of the police, but to become a better person by being prettier. Vollin agrees to operate Bateman.

Alas, instead of the Valentino look Bateman was probably hoping for, Vollin (who has a slight disposition towards sadism, I must say) rather goes for Karloff in Frankenstein. This is not only bound to make Bateman more evil, it is also a nice basis to press the man into helping Vollin get his revenge.

Now it's just a question of inviting everyone Vollin wants to see dead (who knows for what reason in the case of half of them) to a little party over the weekend and acquainting them with the beauty of one's home built torture devices and very special home improvements - after a little (very very dumb) philosophizing about Poe, love and torture.

The Raven is one of the lesser known Universal horror films, a forerunner of the trend of picking the title of a random Poe story or poem to then not follow the plot of one's source in the least. It's a perfectly fine way to go about it, of course, as long as the resulting film is as entertaining as this one.

Films like this and its brethren always rise (or fall) with the enthusiasm of their villains, since nobody in the 30s or 40s ever bothered to make the supposed heroes and heroines of a film even remotely interesting or likeable. So it should come as no surprise that it is rather difficult to have much empathy with the Judge, the fiancee who acts like the heroine's daddy or the additional random annoying people Bela wants to kill. Jean herself is a little more open-minded than your typical heroine (which means that she at least apologizes when she treats the disfigured Karloff shabbily), but the rest of them is of no further interest at all. What exactly does it say about the morals of a culture when its theoretically ideal embodiments press the viewer into adopting a torturing maniac as his hero?

Be that as it may, Lugosi and Karloff are both in excellent form here, carrying the film despite a rather dumb script (that takes itself to be quite clever, I'm afraid), bland direction and wretched co-stars right into the realm of unfairly ignored films.


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Friday, April 24, 2009

A memo about suffering

via Nerdcore

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

In short: Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)

(Nah, I don't know either why they thought this title was a good idea)

Dr. Who (Peter Cushing, whose character is actually named Doctor Who in the Amicus pictures) strands his TARDIS on Earth of the year 2150. He and his companions (based - as is Cushing's Doctor - on some of the companions of the contemporaneous Hartnell version of the character; therefore, none of them interesting enough to go into details here) could probably have found a better time and place, for our oh so fantastic little planet has been invaded by the Daleks, mostly to provide the attack salt shakers with the possibility for a very special mining operation in Bedfordshire.

There is resistance among the human survivors, though, and after some reasonably exciting adventures, the doctor is doing his usual genocidal business on his old enemies.

The two Amicus produced film versions of Doctor Who with Peter Cushing aren't too well-loved among Who fans, with Cushing's doctor never counted as canonical at all (even if the scripts of the films were based on some of the TV serials), and it's not too difficult to understand why. The Amicus films are very much in the business of streamlining the Doctor away from anything actually mysterious or mystifying (even compared to Hartnell, whose Who phase - as far as I'm familiar with it - doesn't strike me as all that strange or mysterious to begin with), making the Doctor a not atypical for pulpy SF old scientist guy with a time machine.

If you can ignore that, and have a certain affinity for mid-60s SF, you can have quite a bit of fun with the film. Cushing doesn't have all that much to do, but he's of course as reliable a presence as ever, while the young ones in the cast do their spots of running around and getting captured decent enough.

While it's fun in a pulpy way, I found that the film has its most interesting moments when it is playing with the UK's post-World War II / post Blitz anxieties, a subtext that is in fact strengthened through the fact that the year 2150 of the film does look rather a lot like 1944 (purposefully more so than it does like 1966, if you ask me). There's no deep exploration of this subtext - there's always too much running and shooting to do - yet it is present enough to lend the proceedings a bit more reality-based gravitas than your typical Rupert T. Davies script of today dares to have.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A City Called Dragon (1969)

China, 1193. At the moment, the (this time transcribed as) Jin dynsty rules China, while the followers of the displaced Han are plotting a revolution.

Chang, the mayor of an unnamed city, is secretly on the side of the Han. Unfortuantely his secrecy doesn't amount to much and he gets himself killed. His replacement (Shih Jun), a man who betrayed the Han cause for the Jin years ago, doesn't hesitate and merrily slaughters the dead man's family and friends, too.

Some time later, a certain Miss Shang (Hsu Feng) comes to town. She is an agent of the Han, instructed to obtain some never defined "secret papers" that contain some plans of the rebels (written by General McGuffin, I suppose).

The swordswoman is as capable and determined as they come, yet even she will have great difficulties to obtain the papers, cut through a net of double-crosses or just to stay alive, especially when she makes an attempt on the life of the new mayor and learns the hard way that there is always someone better than yourself in the martial world.

A City Called Dragon easily invites the comparison to the films of King Hu, seeing that it was directed by an assistant director of the older film, utilizes some of Hu's core actors and (surely a sign of the times when this was made) film stock. This comparison is neither fair to Hu nor to City's director Larry Tu Chong-Hsun, though.

While Tu's film lacks much of the brilliance of Hu's work and Tu is not sharing Hu's interest in exploring the morality of his characters, the younger director is also trying to take his wuxia into a very different direction from Hu's.

His main influences seem to be Japanese chambara and the Spaghetti Western, so he merrily utilizes some typical visual techniques of both genres. The uncomfortably close close-up stands next to dialogue scenes shot from knee-height upwards, stands next to belly-cam (=the state of affairs when the camera mostly seems to focus on the actors' bellies) stands next to a very Japanese way of shooting fights with the camera positioned behind objects so that the actual fighting is taking place in the background.

At times, especially in the first half of the film, these techniques are surprisingly effective to heighten the film's tension, at other times they  just seem to be weird for weirdness' sake (nothing I'm in the business of criticizing too heavily).

Speaking of fighting, friends of the wuxia film will probably be a little disappointed by the small amount of fights and their respective shortness (the latter again very chambara), as well as Tu's habit of being more interested in the framing of the fights than in the fighting itself.

Actually, there's not only not much fighting going on, there is relatively little else happening, even the melodrama is pared down, leaving the always wonderful lead actors with relatively little to do. The fact that the script isn't doing new-fangled stuff like character development surely is not helping.

Still, A City Called Dragon has something - Tu's angling for weird camera angles? the surprisingly awesome use of the colour brown? the "how the hell are we going to end this thing?" ending? - that presses me into a making it a minor recommandation for friends of Taiwanese martial arts movies.

In any case, it is a much better film than some of the quarry based fare that got churned out in Taiwan at the same time.


In short: Banlieue 13 (2004)

In near future France, the government has cut off the banlieues (comparable to the projects in American cities) in a bout of misguided Escape from New York fandom, built walls around them and has closed down all police stations, schools and hospitals.

When local gangleader Taha (Bibi Naceri) steals an experimental neutron bomb that is transported through the are, the police sends in their best man, Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli). With the help of formerly jailed banlieue-dweller and hobby Robin Hood Lieto (David Belle), who has a vendetta against Taha of his own, Damien has to fight through the hostile territory of the banlieue to reach the bomb before an automatic timer can run out and the bomb vaporizes two million people.

I'm not as completely enamored of Banlieue 13 as some other people whose taste I respect are. Oh, it's an very exhilarating movie in the way it mixes Parkours and martial arts, and a great example of the action movie as a genre about bodies in motion, always at its best when its heroes move with improbable speed and skill through urban environments.

It's just a little sad that the film falls flat on its face as soon as it is trying to pause a little and go into the direction of "social commentary" or that elusive thing known as "human emotions", both things I have seen Hong Kong movies add to the genre to great effect. I blame Luc Besson's script, and am a little puzzled how someone with so much experience as a writer could be responsible for the film's ropey plotting, especially the nonsensical conspiracy at the core of the film. At least you can't say Besson's heart isn't in the right place.

Don't get me wrong, it is still great fun to watch and blows most Western action films of the last decades away, it's just not complex enough to be a great action film.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Burrowers (2008)

The American frontier, 1861. Two families are attacked, some of them killed, the women kidnapped. Everyone is sure that the deed was done by a group of Sioux from the reservation close by, because killing farmers and kidnapping women as their future wives is what Indians do, right. There's just the small matter of details like the strange, round holes in the vicinity of the farm and the even stranger wounds that killed the farmers - single cuts in their necks - to ignore. A posse consisting of a cavalry troop under the command of a certain Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison) and a few interested private citizens, the experienced John Clay (Clancy Brown) and Will Parcher (William Mapother), as well as Coffey (Karl Geary) who was just about to propose to one of the missing women and Dobie (Galen Hutchinson), the teenage son of the woman Parcher is trying to woo.
The soldiers abduct the first Indian they see and start with the torturing at once. Of course, the poor guy doesn't know much, and without the torturing, he would probably have told them what he knew. The civilians are less than impressed by the way Victor handles the situation, or by the fact that he's obviously a sadistic maniac with a very short fuse. It's not that these aren't violent and hard people, they just don't get off on senseless cruelty like Victor and his men do.
The only thing their captive can tell them is that they are looking for "the burrowers", plainly no Indian tribe anyone has ever heard of. That's no reason for Victor not to want to ride further into the Indian reservation to finally get himself some killing done again. The civilians remain skeptical, even more so after four of Victor's men just disappear while they are on guard duty. For Victor, it's a clear case of desertion. Parcher, Clay and the others don't even bother to tell him of the holes that have appeared around the camp anymore.
Instead, they split from the soldiers and let them go about their business of genocide, while they go and try to find out where following the strange holes will lead them.
Soon after Victor's black cook Callaghan (Sean Patrick Thomas), glad to find a reason to get away from a racist madman like his former boss, has joined them (and no, he's not going to sacrifice his life bravely so that our white heroes can go on), they make a terrible discovery. A girl, paralyzed, conscious and buried alive, bearing the same wound as the dead back home. The man slowly begin to understand that they are not hunting anything human at all.
The Burrowers is a very fine movie, the kind of film that does nearly everything right, marrying the revisionist Western and the horror film so deftly as to make it look easy.
Usually, I try to avoid using words like "gritty", but for once it is the right way to describe a film. From the start, the film strives for the dusty and muddy naturalism, showing the West not necessarily as it was, but very much in a way it really could have been, with all the cruelty and racism this implies. Yet director and writer J.T. Petty mostly (Henry Victor is the exception, and very much the sort of exception you make when you want to make a political point) eschews demonizing his characters as much as glorifying them. Clay and Parcher, for example, are hard men, willing to do most anything to survive, but they aren't cruel, or more violent than is necessary for them. Petty also gets some excellent performances from his actors, some of whom obviously relish the chance to do some real acting this time.
I find it remarkable how well the film fits the basic horror of life on the frontier, where the slightest misunderstanding can lead to the death of someone who just doesn't deserve it, to the even greater horror of the burrowers. As a revisionist Western, it talks openly about the terrors people inflict upon themselves and so needs monsters that are even worse, and made even worse by the way people relate to them.
Besides this, the film is also one of the coolest monster flicks of recent years, utilizing a surprisingly effective mixture of CGI and physical effects. At first, we only get enticing glimpses of the burrowers, which escalate into moments of greater violence and greater visibility, slowly building up to a very grotesque finale.
Speaking of finale, it's been a long time since I have seen a film with an ending that has such a tone of cruel absurdity, which is perfectly fitting for this story.
The Burrowers is a beautiful example of the sort of film I wish more American horror directors would start to make again. A film with adults, about adults, interested in something besides gore without ignoring it completely, intelligent and thoughtful enough without trying to hit the viewer over the head with its own cleverness, very nicely photographed, edited with a sense of craft, but still very much a film inside the genre. Just not one willing to ignore the interesting things one can do within a genre; or, as is the case here, by letting two genres collide.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Music Monday: Goodbye Mr. Ballard Edition

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

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In short: Nightmare In A Damaged Brain (1981)

Science! Science is so great, it can help even someone like George Tatum (Baird Stafford). George, you see, is a paranoid schizophrenic with homicidal urges who has already killed a family in Brooklyn. Fortunately, his psychiatrist Paul (Bill Milling), wielding the mighty sword of movie science, has a nice new experimental drug to make Paul's problem go away. Too bad that the rest of Paul's science isn't up to snuff, or he would probably have understood that George's recurring dream about killing his parents with an axe is not a dream but a memory. That way, he would probably have thought twice about letting his patient walk free as soon as he shows a dubious amount of stability (or not, see "Brooklyn family").

One New York peepshow and an epileptic episode later, George goes on the lam, making his way to Florida for some reason his doctor (a man who blew his research skill check mightily) doesn't understand.

George has already started killing again on the way, and when he arrives in Florida, he divides his time between a little more killing and the stalking of your typical American family consisting of a single mom (Sharon Smith), her beardy boyfriend (Mik Cribben), two normal children and young C.J. (C.J. Cooke), a compulsive liar, cruel practical joker and obvious future serial killer.

On paper, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is your typical, at once rather nasty and low body-count, part of the big slasher craze,an impoverished mix of too small a budget and too little shooting time with no originality to speak of.

In practice, it is quite a compelling film. It might be Romano Scavolini's direction (and man, does this guy have a strange body of work) that elevates the film. Scavolini was valiantly doing his best to not let the film look as cheap as it should, often achieving a creepy mood, a feeling of something being slightly off, through judicious use of classically weird camera angles.

Or it might be Baird Stafford's rather intense performance as George. He's not going for bigger than life evil or killer machine, but tries to keep his serial killer human in a way that is probably not in the script. This doesn't make George a nicer person, yet it adds an additional dimension to the film you don't find in slashers too often.

Or it might be the film's tense finale that is a little at odds with the leisurely pace of much of what goes on before; or the film's ruthlessness in touching certain aspects American films usually don't dare to touch (blame it on the Italian writer/director).

Whatever the exact reason is, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is very much worth watching, probably even loving, if you are inclined to love a cuddly little homicidal maniac.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beast in Space (1980)

Space Force Captain Larry Madison (Alfonso Brescia veteran Vasili Karis in the expected role) is a perfect example of manly manhood: short like an especially unimpressive piece of shrub, studly as a pornstar, hitable like William Shatner. On one of his shore leave adventures, Captain Larry lands in bed with Sondra (Sirpa Lane). The woman has more trouble than just a dubious taste in men - she has nightly dreams of getting lost on a strange planet, dining with a finely dressed guy in a castle, having sex, and fleeing through the alien woods (which look a lot like bog standard birch woods to me). She's quite sure that her dreams are more than normal nightmares, but telling heroic Captain Larry about it and watching him fall asleep to her troubles is all she'll get.

The hero's hero has more important things to do anyway - his newest mission will lead him and the crew of his new ship to a planet where the incredibly rare metal antalium can be found. And wouldn't you know? Sondra, or Lt. Richardson as she is called when she is dressed, is Larry's new route officer (Brescia for navigator, I suppose).

After the ship nearly crashes on the missions's target planet, Captain Larry and his crew stumble over its surface in search of their precious metal. Too bad that this is the planet Sondra has dreamt of and that the rest of her dreams is going to come true, too, with added satyrs, mind-controlling super computers, the erotic power of horse sex and quite a bit of nakedness.

After making a perfectly nonsensical (and incredibly awe-inspiring) quartet of SF films whose mere existence is only explainable by combining the Italian film industry, dadaism and the Situationist International in one conspiracy theory, every normal director would have been satisfied with his or her part in the history of the genre. Not so Alfonso Brescia. After a short pause (aka making two non SF films in about three weeks), the master returned to the genre, taking the final logical step in his body of work - making a pornographic SF film which he (or the producers) tried to sell as some kind of sequel to Walentin Borowczyk's The Beast.

Surprisingly enough, he produced a film with a certain amount of coherence (I'd even let myself go so far as to speak of "logic"), a certain amount of style, and his usual amount of inexplicable weird shit. Besides the (plot relevant, I shit you not) sex, the viewer is given a kind of best of the effects scenes from Brescia's earlier films. Cynical persons might interpret that as a cheapskate way to get any effects at all into the film, completely overlooking the wondrous pieces of wood and papiermache we haven't seen before, or the hairy satyr legs and ass that are most certainly new to this film.

And yes, it's all cheap and shoddy as hell, but made with a real enthusiasm that's absolutely disarming if you are inclined to be disarmed by the idea of things more than by their "good" execution; and yes, the dialog is terrible (and even less competently dubbed than usual in Italian films); and yes the acting is dubious at best.

But - and this is what is really important in art, right? - it's all made with the strange conviction of people who can't see any real difference between making a quick buck and making really interesting art that, yes, you can make a pornographic SF interpretation of a film which itself already re-interpreted a fairytale with a bit more sex than many viewers were comfortable with. You can do it, just with a handful of people ready to shed their clothes, scenes from and the sets of films you made a year ago and a complete lack of respect for the ways films are supposed to be made.

Alfonso Brescia, I bow before you.


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Friday, April 17, 2009

Warrior of the Lost World (1983)

The post-nuclear wasteland (comes, as any good wasteland, complete with luscious woodland areas and competently maintained roads) is dominated by the worse-than-fascist-so-they-must-stand-in-for-communists uniformed goons of Prossor (Donald Pleasance, looking for all the world like frigging Doctor Evil and acting accordingly).

Fortunately, the smarmy and disgusting charismatic Professor McWayne (Harrison Muller) leads a resistance group against Prossor's evil. Too bad the Professor is held captive in Prossor's capital. His two or three co-resistance fighters, Fred Williamson in a cameo that doesn't afford him to do anything and the Professor's daughter (Persis Khambatta) aren't enough to rescue him, they desperately need a Chosen One.

As Destiny will have it, The Rider (Robert Ginty, with the kind of performance that lets me think wistfully of more charismatic leads in post-apocalyptic films. Like Mark "I can't talk or act but I sure can pout" Gregory. Ginty really is that disinterested.), some permanently bored looking and comatose sounding guy driving a "super sonic speed cycle" - featuring the most annoying computer voice ever (and again, letting me think wistfully of the witty banter in Knight Rider. It really is that painful) - crashes into the mountain where the rebels' allies are living.

Those guys are known as the Elders, are middle aged, ugly and run around in Ghandi's worn-out clothes. Oh, they also have magic powers and can heal wounds with the flashlights they have hidden in their sleeves. Anyway, the Rider is of course very excited to be the Chosen One to save the Professor, so it takes only the daughter's promise not to shoot him in the crotch if he goes to the rescue to convince him to be fulfill his destiny.

After some boring adventures (look, loud spiders! a snake! zombies/mutants!, Daughter and Rider rescue the Professor, but the insane incompetence of everyone involved (which presumably mirrors the things that happen behind the camera) gets Daughter kidnapped while her father goes free.

So Rider and Professor go to the meeting place of the local post-apocalyptic tribes (the Shirtless Kung Fu Dudes, the Guys in Nazi Uniforms, the Hitting Hookers, the New Wave Persons and the Redneck Truckers) to get themselves an army.

A little fistfighting and an annoying, stupid rousing speech of the Professor later, they have one. It's only consisting of about fifteen people, but hey, at least Rider is the Chosen One.

Off to the rescue they go. Will they save Daughter before Donald Pleasance has photocopied her whole body? Do I sound like I care?

I know, I know, all this sounds like the sort of film that should be right up my alley, what with its post-apocalyptic nonsense and Fred Williamson and Donald Pleasance cameos. The sad and tragic truth is that this might be the least fun post-apocalypse film our friends in the USA and Italy have ever made.

Director David Worth (who'd later go on to make the incredible Shark Attack 3: Megalodon) does everything in his power to make even the most awesome elements of his film terribly boring. I'm not sure how he does it, but he succeeds admirably. Is it Worth's inability to get anything even out of people like Pleasance and Williamson whose presence usually is enough to lift everything they appear in to the level of "at least watchable"? Is it the excellent way in which he keeps the action scenes completely unexciting through framing and editing exemplary in their boring ineptness (which you shouldn't confuse with fun ineptness)? Is it the fight scenes in which nobody ever seems to touch his foes? The toy weapons with the toy soundeffects? The fact that I wanted to punch the film's hero in the face whenever he opened his mouth and mumbled something?

Who knows?

So, let this be a warning not to delude yourself into a "with all this crap going on, this has to be awesome, right!?" state of mind concerning Warrior of the Lost World. Also keep in mind that the person who is warning you away here has been known to call Donald G. Jackson's post-apocalyptic roller skate epics "mandatory watching".


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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ichi (2008)

A young blind woman called Ichi (Haruka Ayase) wanders through ancient Japan as a traveling shamisen player. She was cast out of a goze house for having an affair with a customer, never mind that it wasn't an affair, but rape. In her mind, she hasn't got much to live for anymore. There is only reason Ichi is actually still making an effort to live. She wants to find the blind man who brought her to the goze house and returned from time to time to teach her to use a swordcane and who was as much of a father to her as anyone ever was. It is in fact possible that the man is her biological father.

When she comes to the area around a small inn town, she meets a charming but seemingly cowardly ronin named Touma Fujihira (Takao Osawa). During their first meeting, Touma rather heroically tries to protect her from a group of outlaws, but is a wee bit hindered in it by his own inability to draw his sword. Ichi doesn't have those kind of problems and slaughters the outlaws in a few seconds.

Touma is intrigued by Ichi, even though she acts about as emotive and warm as a stone. She probably reminds him of his mother, whom he accidentally blinded in a sword training accident. That accident is the reason for his trouble with swords. As long as he fights with training weaponry, everything is fine (we'll later see that he is an even better fighter than Ichi), but drawing his actual weapon to fight is beyond his abilities.

The ronin, who is an aimless wanderer like Ichi, stumbles into the conflict that makes this inn town so special. The town is run by the Shirakawa group, the sort of honorable yakuza you'll mostly find in ninkyo eiga. It's just too bad that they are terrorized by the gang of outlaws of which Ichi's would-be rapists were only a small part. These people, the bakin gang (second in command: Riki Takeuchi, oh yes!) once were of a much higher position in life and have now made it their job to make everyone else as miserable as they are themselves. They are quite effective at that.

As things go, Ichi and Touma are drawn into the conflict for different reasons, both bound for some kind of change with the way they live with their trauma.

As a fan of the classical Zatoichi films with Shintaro Katsu, I was quite skeptical about a re-boot/re-think of the series with a female protagonist. To my delight, I found a film that may not reach the heights of the best of the original series, yet is very serious about being a chambara in the spirit of the older films. It also isn't a real re-boot, but more of a sequel with a new character. The film never outright says that Ichi's father figure is the original Ichi as played by Shintaro Katsu, but hints strongly and effectively at it.

After a relatively slow and not all that promising beginning, the film soon starts to hit one of my personal narrative kinks really hard when it turns into the story of two heavily traumatized people (Ichi herself does in fact suffer some of the classical symptoms of PTSD), who don't "get over their traumas" (because one does not), but start to live and change again. It's also not a film about love as the all-conquering power that makes every trauma go away (as taught by Hollywood), yet it also doesn't say that love and human kindness aren't necessary and helpful. In other words, Ichi is one of the few films that gets this aspect right.

I'm also quite taken with the fact that the film grants its minor characters a little more depth (and good lord, even character arcs! some of them even not ending in death!) than usual in the genre, enough to keep the less than original plot fresh and put everything on the character base that is fitting for a Zatoichi film.

The acting itself is mostly alright. You'll know just about everyone here from one Japanese direct to DVD production or the other, so you'll probably know that everyone here is perfectly capable to give a solid to good performance, with Osawa's Touma and Yosuke Kobuzuka's young yakuza leader as the stand-outs.

Ayase (being an idol, not an actress) is technically the least convincing actor, but she delivers what she is supposed to deliver, which is mostly to look pretty in rags and try to emote as little as possible since she's shut herself off from most of her feelings. She is also quite fantastic in her few action scenes, giving her Ichi a threatening, nearly ghostly presence through body language alone.

The action sequences aren't overtly spectacular, but effective and quite beautiful in their way. Director Fumihiko Sori does some interesting things with a rhythmic use of speed-ups and slow-motion I don't think I have seen before.

The only thing I found disappointing (and probably the part of the movie that keeps it below the Zatoichi films of - for example - Kenji Misumi) is the general look of the picture. Colours, lightning and film stock have the usual (quite ugly) look of a Japanese direct to DVD production - probably inescapable in this context, but we're at least not talking Onichanbara-ugly here - making it not as interesting to look at as one would wish.

But honestly, with this script and the respect for the classic samurai films of the chambara sub-genre the film breathes, I would probably not even complain when you could see a microphone arm smack dab in the middle of the picture for the complete duration of the film.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In short: The Strangeness (1985)

A random assortment of people gathers to survey the prospects of re-opening an old gold mine, which was closed off decades ago after a chain of unexplained deaths under the miners got too much even for a mining company.

The group soon finds itself caved in and under attacked by a stop-motion creature I hereby dub "tentacled vagina bear".

The Strangeness is a bland to okay monster movie with slightly better acting than one would expect from a no budget film from the 80s (at least until the actors are afforded to emote). At half its length, this would probably quite entertaining, as it is, it is very very slow and very very uneventful, but not completely without charm. The monster is extremely cute and there are even two or three scenes that are well-made enough to be worth watching.

I have seen much worse.


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gargoyles (1972)

It's always nice when a film starts out with a fake history lesson. Gargoyles informs us that humanity isn't the only intelligent species living on our planet - Satan himself created a species of humanoid horned (sometimes winged) reptiles, who emerge every few hundred years to try and wrestle dominance over the world from humanity. Humanity - notoriously rational as it is - has suppressed the truth about the gargoyles and put them into the realm of legend, the medieval stone gargoyles left as a final warning.

In modern day America (well, it's 1972), Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) are making their way through the southwest of the USA to visit the owner of one these roadside attractions whose existence fills my European heart with intense jealousy.

The man, fittingly known as Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss), has something to show to the Boleys, something he thinks the Doctor in his function as TV-famous book-writing anthropologist and professional debunker of myths should find very interesting.

Willie has in fact found the motherlode - the intact skeleton of a winged, horned and beaked humanoid creature. Boley is skeptical, but willing to examine the thing more closely. He is also going to listen to the Native American legends the old man has to tell about the skeleton.

Before the old drunk can get very far with his stories, the reason for a certain fearfulness in his demeanor and the strange security measures he takes with confining the skeleton to a locked and barred shack (small echoes of Lovecraft's Whisperer in the Dark here), become clear. Something winged, and worse, clawed, lands on the roof of the shack and shreds right through it.

In the ensuing chaos, poor Willie dies and the shack goes up in flames. Jennifer and Boley escape with the skeleton's skull to the safety of their car .

It is not as safe as they think, though, as the same creature which attacked the shack lands on their car roof and tries to get inside, obviously to get at the skull. They manage to escape, and, for some reason postponing a visit to the police until the next day, check into the nearest motel.

When they finally return to Willie's shack with the Sheriff (William Stevens), whom they of course haven't told anything about flying monsters, the next day, the lawman easily finds a group of dirtbikers (lead by a young Scott Glenn) who are his preferred scapegoats for everything out of order in the area. The bikers themselves aren't helping their case much by looking through the burnt out remains of Willie's place and trying to flee (leading to the mandatory dirtbike chase every film with dirtbikes is obliged to have), so the Sheriff arrests them.

Jennifer is rightfully irritated by her father's obvious unwillingness to protect the long(ish) haired ones from the ire of the cops. One could think that having found a scientific sensation is more important to him than some random people's lifes.

Dispositions like Boley's can of course change when one is confronted with further attacks of the gargoyles and their leader (Bernie Casey), but said changes might come to late to prevent the things that usually happen when a young woman and men in rubber monster suits meet.

Gargoyles is the first piece of TV direction Bill L. Norton did after making the Kris Kristofferson vehicle Cisco Pike, beginning a long career as a network television mercenary. Unlike many made for TV films, this is really quite good (and seems to have at least semi-legendary status among American genre fans), graced with a script that has an interesting premise told in an economical way and made by a director who isn't phoning it in like too many TV people did back then.

There are of course flaws in the plot logic - it is, for example quite difficult to understand why the Boley's don't get the hell out of Dodge at once - but the content and pacing are handled so gracefully and with a surprising amount of complexity (not depth, mind you, more like thematic broadness) that I found myself not caring all that much about boring things like correct motivations or logical behaviour.

I found the film's first half to be especially effective, yet even the opening up to elements that wouldn't have been out of place in Star Trek works surprisingly well, showing some knowledge of and respect for genre conventions as well as a considerable willingness to leave the movie's morals a little more open than one can usually expect from a film like this.

The only real problem some modern viewers might have will lie with the gargoyle rubber suits. Don't get me wrong, they are lovingly designed, even granting the gargoyles individuality through differences in the lay-out of their heads and bodies, but some people won't be able to look at them and see more than (probably cheap) rubber suits, instead of the strange creatures those rubber suits represent. (My short theory about rubber suits: rubber suit monsters aren't supposed to be realistic, they are representational.)

I for one welcome our rubbery overlords.


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Monday, April 13, 2009

Music Monday: Inappropriate Nakedness Edition

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

In short: Nero Veneziano (1978)

A blind teenager called Mark (Renato Cestie) and his slightly older sister Christine (Rena Niehaus) are living in Venice with their grandmother. Their parents died some years ago under never really explained, but most certainly dubious circumstances. Granny mostly blames the mother's family, the Winters, for everything and so contact between the only Winters who are left and the children is non-existent.

The family priest (Jose Quaglio) is in contact with the Winters, though, and conveys their wish to take Mark and Christine in as help with their boarding house. Grandma declines, but soon dies during mass in the sort of freak accident one gets into when one regularly psychically abuses one's blind grandson and lets him stumble into the direction of the back of a candle rich environment just to be nasty.

With grandmother dead and more priestly words of advice to just try living with the Winters for a bit, as well as equally priestly elucidations about a healing well that is supposed to cure illnesses like blindness in the direction of Mark, the children are willing to try it out.

Mark, who has already had strange visions in which he sees a black coated man with a cane (Yorgo Voyagis) before, now hardly has a moment without something weird happening to him anymore, be it having earthworms crawling out of the water faucets, more visions of the black coated man or extra special fun with dead people.

It seems like he and Christine have stumbled into the hands of an occult conspiracy with the goal of producing the son of Satan and helping him into experiencing a fast lane version of a "negative image" of the life of Jesus.

Ugo Liberatore's (and what an excellent name that is!) Nero Veneziano is a very weird riff on Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. Some people would call it a rip-off, but the Italian movie is way too peculiar and way too interested in its own (wrong-headed, twisted) ideas, in a way much too Catholic, to be seen as such. Some of these ideas could in fact be the basis for quite a clever and subtle film.

Obviously, Nero Veneziano is not that film. Instead it's a sleazy, strangely paced, dubiously acted completely weird exploitation movie that could only have been produced in Italy. It is quite brilliantly messed up and you really should see it if you are a friend of this sort of thing (I'm still giddy from watching it, myself), yet definitely a film to avoid if you are primarily interested in plot, logic, plot logic, characterization, sense or good taste.

Me, I like me some scenes of decaying Venice, Satanic conspiracies, baby throwing, the mental torture of the blind and other fun things.


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Ils (2006)

also known as Them, but honestly, that title belongs to my favorite giant bug movie.

Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen) are a French married couple living and working in Rumania. Clementine teaches French in a school in Bucharest, while Lucas stays at home, living the sexy lifestyle of the blocked writer. Their home is a gigantic mansion that has seen better days and - looking at the few pieces of furniture in it, as well as the fact that this is not a rich couple - obviously went for cheap. It's not a big surprise, really. Whoever would want to live this remote in the woods?

The couple takes an environment that would keep me in a permanent state of panic with the shrug that suggests people who never have been in any physical danger. Of course, they both don't know of the murder of a woman and her daughter that took place not far from their home the night before that functioned as the film's pre-title teaser as if this was a rather tame episode of The X-Files.

For characters in a horror film, Clementine and Lucas have quite well developed survival instincts, though. So, when Clementine is woken by strange noises from outside the house (or are they inside?) at night, she first wakes up her husband and then goes to look at the source of the noises together with him.

Someone has gotten into Clementine's car and drives away with it, but only after toying a little with Lucas in a style that most definitely does not look like a thing a normal car thief would do and suggests that something more sinister is afoot.

Clementine calls the police, but is, in the least believable moment of the film, put off until the next morning.

A few moments later, the electricity of the house is cut and the couple has to deal with the fact that someone (or is it something?) much worse than a burglar has come for a visit.

Ils is yet another part of the small horror renaissance which has taken place in France in the last few years. Where most other films of the type are quite gory, Ils mostly tries its hand at classic suspense techniques. With the gore, the film unfortunately also seems to have lost an direct interest in politics or philosophy (which, even when both interests aren't going all that deep, are the core difference between these films and your typical American horror movie of the last two decades for me). One can of course still find subtext here - it's just that it doesn't look as if the film's directors were consciously trying to make a point or were reflecting on what their film could be saying.

Instead, we get a very straightforward thriller, well played, stylish-but-not-annoyingly-so directed, with creepy locations which do in fact look like real physical spaces and with some elements of the trope of "terrible things going on just under the surface of modern, normal life" that is especially beloved in my house.

I found the final fifteen minutes especially striking regarding the latter, although I couldn't shake the feeling that the directors wanted the viewer to have a much stronger emotional reaction to the identity of the killers than I had. Who Can Kill A Child for example handled a similar set-up a lot more harrowing. Of course, that film was also quite a bit more ambitious and its director wasn't on his way to make bland Hollywood remakes of solid Asian horror movies as Ils' Moreau and Palud would with their pointless The Eye remake.

All this isn't to say that Ils isn't worth watching. As a well-paced horror thriller it works nicely, it just lacks the little bit more of substance that makes the difference between a very competent and a very good film.


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Saturday, April 11, 2009

In short: 7 Saal Baad (1987)

A husband and wife couple (Navin Nishchal & Sharmila Tagore) reopens the Happy Home Hotel which has stood deserted for a few years after a double murder happened there.

The people of the nearby village are convinced the hotel is cursed, and whoever mentions the place is confronted with the combination of broken dishes, mad ravings by the local raving madman and panicked staring most travelers in a horror film encounter on a regular basis.

Nonetheless the hotel soon attracts a slew of young attractive woman/hairy man couples (including one guy who likes to sing the title song of Disco Dancer) as guests whose happy frolicking makes up quite an amount of the film's running time. There's also the guy (Suresh Oberoi) who once saved Mrs. Hotel Owner from being gang raped and went to jail for his efforts and a certain Lisa (Prema Narayan) who spends real-time hours to reach the hotel.

Finally, a killer strikes! Will he, she or it be able to stop the viewer from falling asleep?

Wow, 7 Saal Baad is the first Hindi horror movie I have seen I would call downright boring. It's neither as wrong as Paapi Gudia, nor as enthusiastic and sleazy (and enthusiastically sleazy) as the typical Ramsey Brothers work, nor is it as deranged as Harinam Singh's Shaitani Dracula, leaving it in the sad position of an exploitation film that seems to be ashamed of being one.

Its core problem is simple: there's nothing much of any interest happening, besides the frolicking (including the least exciting bits of full-clothed sleaze one could imagine) and the highest amount of musical numbers I have encountered in a film up to now. I lost count somewhere around song number eight. It's not even that I am one of these heartless bores who don't like picturisations on principle, I just don't like them boring, and "boring" is the mode two thirds of the songs here are in. There are two or three numbers which are quite charming in their absurdity, but the rest is just dreary. Director S.U. Saiyed also tries his hands at a few moments of masala-like melodrama that never really lead anywhere except for the land of yawns.

A very patient viewer will probably find a few other nice moments in the movie, mostly in the insane, nearly Harinam Singh-worthy mixture of bad animal imitations on the soundtrack, stock footage and ugly colour-filters that makes up the film's murder sequences, but (again) there's hardly enough of these in there to keep one awake. In fact, if you have seen the film's first few minutes, you have seen its best part and can probably find something better to do with the rest of your life.

So, what we have here are twenty minutes of movie that will be somewhat amusing for people with lowered expectations (like me) and another hundred minutes of distilled boredom, probably enough to cure most cases of insomnia.


Daily Twitter Terror

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Daily Twitter Terror

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

In short (and this time I mean short): Garden of the Dead (1974)

A group of formaldehyde sniffing chain gang prisoners escape, only to die during the flight. For no reason at all, they revive as clown-faced, garden implement wielding zombies with a tendency to say stuff like "Kill the living!" (or something in that sense - I'm not starting this thing up again to check my memory) and attack their place of imprisonment. More formaldehyde-sniffing ensues. Also some bloodless killing.

Oh, look, it's got not budget, no talent and makes no sense! Sounds like a fun time? Unfortunately, this one really isn't. It is just bad in the blandest way possible, without any charm, weirdness, madness or spark of life to speak of.

Avoid (yes, even YOU!).


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  • 19:05 "The Royal Demon Hunting Squad". Now that sounds like a dream team.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

El Latigo contra Satanas (1979)

A small Mexican or Guatemalan town way out in the wilderness has more problems than can be fair. If you ask me, living beside a vulcano that is just starting to get active again should be enough trouble for one community. Alas, parallel to the promise of a fiery death, a weird group of halfnaked satanists in spandex trousers holds regular meet-ups in the ruins built on the vulcano. From time to time they ride down into town to attack and burn someone.

An unpleasant mixture of religious fanaticism and plain stupidity runs high, and the less educated part of the town's population has need for a scapegoat - for the vulcanic activity as well as the satanists, which the people take to be demons from hell. Their spokesman, a certain Ramiro (Noe Murayama), finds them a fine scapegoat without problems in the daughter (Yolanda Ochoa, I think) of one of the richer people in town. I'm sure his declaring of her as a witch and the fact that she had refused his love and had escaped his attempts at sexual assault have nothing at all to do with each other. It can't help that she's often acting like a classical oracle either.

Just as the good people of the town are starting to string her up on a tree besides a crossroad, a stranger (Juan Miranda) comes to town. He seems to be your typical snake's oil salesman (if a little bit weirder dressed than most), but when the need arises, he dresses up exactly like Zorro and gives evildoers whatfor with his trusty whip. El Latigo, as he is known when in costume, doesn't take too well to attempts by supersticious nutcakes to murder women, and goes to the rescue.

Rescuing women isn't the real reason El Latigo is in town, though. He is looking for a man (what the realtionship between the two is, is something a certain obtuseness in the movie and my bad Spanish decided to keep as their little secret) who has been murdered by the satanists. Of course, being a masked hero and all, El Latigo isn't going to stand for satanic murders and sacrifices to vulcanos.

Between the evildoers and the supersticious townsfolk he's going to have to whip a lot of people into submission. At least the local priest (Ruben Rojo) turns out to be quite helpful.

As a film about a Zorro variant fighting against a satanic cult, El Latigo contra Satanas wouldn't have needed to do much of interest to find my approval. Director Alfredo B. Crevenna, who has 150 films in his IMDB filmography, seems to have had one of his more ambitious weeks when flying out to Guatemala to film this one, though. Crevenna is keeping the film surprisingly fast-paced, even dynamic.

The action scenes might be a far cry from even a mediocre Shaw Brothers production, but work out quite nicely in the enthusiastic style of old serials, even though someone in postproduction seems to have forgotten to add soundeffects to them. The film even utilizes some classical cliffhanger moments, complete with a certain amount of cheating when it comes to the way it keeps its hero alive.

The true core of the film however are some creatively staged and lighted scenes from the pulpier edge of gothic horror, utilizing a set of moods Mexican popular cinema by 1979 had mostly discarded.

Candles, bava-red and bava-green and various multi-coloured fogs in combination with excellent location shots (if you ignore the unwillingness of the film to stick to one time of day for any given scene) of Guatemalan ruins give the film a unique look I haven't seen much of before.

I was also positively surprised by the acting, especially Murayama and Rojo give very rounded performances, working from a script that is willing to give its characters a little more depth than strictly necessary, making their fate that small but important bit more interesting.

All in all, the movie is an impressive and entertaining mixture of Mexian western, pulp-style adventure and gothic horror I wouldn't have thought the director of La Furia De Los Karatecas had in him.


Daily Twitter Terror

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  • 14:18 "Variable pricing" is obviously another phrase for "higher pricing" when you are a major label. Not that I'm surprised.
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